20th March 2017 - The Justice Gap
The new sentencing guideline for young people published recently and due to come into effect on 1 June, introduces a shorter sentence for children who plead guilty earlier in criminal proceedings. It also takes account of their vulnerability and background. While this is to be welcomed more generally, the strict guideline raises some questions.
The aim is to encourage defendants who are going to plead guilty to do so as early in the court process as possible. However, it will more likely put pressure on young people to plead guilty at a magistrates’ court quite often before they have obtained legal advice and, crucially, before they have been appraised of the evidence against them.
Appearing in court is a daunting experience for anyone and young people require more time to provide an account of an incident to a magistrate than the ten minutes that most are afforded. It is simply too rushed and will force some to plead guilty when in fact, they need help to determine their defence.
Caroline Liggins is a Criminal Defence solicitor at HJA who qualified in 2009 as a non-practising Barrister and converted to be a solicitor in 2012.